Why do planners love charging for parking but not for congestion?

Granted, Don Shoup is a charismatic spokesman for his ideas on parking, but parking charges and congestion charging are both applications of Bill Vickrey’s pricing ideas. But you can’t mention parking with some zealous planner affixing you with glittering eye like the ancient mariner and subjecting you to a lecture on economics, but road pricing? Eh. Politically infeasible. They shrug and move on. Or talk about how it just can’t work.

I think they are interested in parking charges because many of them work at the municipal level and parking charges both manages the parking problem, penalizes the sinful auto, and yields a pot of money. (But congestion pricing does the same thing!)

4 thoughts on “Why do planners love charging for parking but not for congestion?

  1. Do planners actually dislike congestion pricing? Are there examples of people who favor parking pricing but don’t favor the concept of road pricing? I don’t see any evidence of that.

    That said, the differences in the feasbility of actually implementing one of these programs are real. If you’re interested in implementing something (and since we already have mechanisms in place to charge for parking), it absolutely is a much easier political lift to adjust the rates and methods for payment rather than take something that is currently ‘free’ and make people pay for it.

    It’s not that congestion pricing is politically infeasible, but it certainly is a lot harder to implement than parking pricing. We already charge for parking, so performance parking is just a change in the rates and hours. Charging for road usage is indeed different. It’s certainly not infeasible, but it does require new systems (while parking pricing systems are already mostly in place).

    • The fact that parking charges is something that can be done by a single jurisdiction is a good reason why planners might be more excited about that. Implementation immediacy. It’s also possible that plenty of places that couldn’t support congestion charging on their freeways can support parking management, so that you get more people from a wider variety of places interested in parking charges.

      As to the defensive tone of your response, Alex, demanding proof of this or that, come on, be fair. First, I didn’t say they “disliked” congestion charging. I said they were, in general, rather ‘meh’ about it. Sort of a “whatevs.” I doubt it’s hostility to congestion pricing, just more along the lines of the idea that it’s just not on their lookout. Of various things that need doing, it’s not just up there with parking charges. My evidence? Take a look at Planetizen and the frequency of parking stories, the Google citations among planners for Shoup’s book versus any of the pricing tomes out there, and the fact that I’ve taught about 1,000 planners over the years, about 999 of them who love parking charge and about 4 who ever gave a crap about congestion charging. And I’m not submitting this blog post to a journal. I’m asking a question about why planners are so differentially attracted to two applications of the same idea.

      You can be mean to Levinson if you want, though. He’s a big boy and can take care of himself, and he’ll deserve it after that crack about calculus.

      • My apologies if the tone of my post was harsh. Re-reading it now, that’s a fair point. I’m a planner, I would love to implement road pricing. But parking pricing is enough of a bureaucratic challenge to pull off, and the pathway to a successful implementation there is much easier.

        In short, I wouldn’t conclude that excitement about implementation means there isn’t excitement about the concept.

        I would also note that success can breed success. Parking pricing has some tangible success stories you can point to – and I’ll bet that has a strong influence on the media coverage. Had New York gotten approval to do congestion pricing a few years ago, perhaps the volume of media attention would be different. New York’s experience, however (a city idea squashed by the state) shows part of the problem in successfully implementing road pricing. It’s not something our governance structures are set up for.

        To the extent that planners are working within the system, and to the extent that parking pricing is already within that existing system, I think that explains a lot. I don’t know that it denigrates the broader concept of pricing, however.

  2. Hypotheses: Because parking prices involves arithmetic and congestion pricing requires calculus. Because in the end, most planners don’t think spatially or about networks. Because parking prices have much lower collection costs than congestion charges (since parked cars are stopped, and traffic is moving) – parking charges are lower hanging fruit. Because as you say planners are municipal and roads involve higher levels of government. Because parking charges already exist and congestion charges are a new tax.

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